PSA causes clouds of confusion

Audrey Dwyer, In-depth Editor

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Nothing makes me roll my eyes more than drug PSA posters.  The cheesy stock photos, the half-hearted slogan about being yourself written in comic sans– I can’t help but feel cynical.  They seem superficial and forced and separated from reality. But this year’s Red Ribbon Week posters did a complete 360. These zombie-themed posters, while eye-catching, sacrifice nuance to grab readers’ attention.  The message of these posters have the potential to shame students and scaremonger.

One of the three posters says, “vaping companies manipulate adolescents into mindlessly using their addictive products.  Use your brain. Don’t be a zombie.” The poster’s purpose is to inform students that the well-being of consumers is not a corporation’s priority. This is an important message, but, the posters take it a step to far, implying that if you give in to these “manipulations” you’re not “using your brain,” making you a zombie.  

This message has detrimental effects.  Alienating students that vape by shaming them excludes them from the conversation about the harms of vaping and, in turn, makes them less willing to receive the school’s anti-vaping message.  In fact, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shaming can have the opposite of the intended effect. Most youth see drug use as a rite of passage to becoming an adult, so shaming drug users could “cause individuals to seek it as a form of rebellion.”  

Another poster said, “Vaping nicotine is addictive. It changes your brain and alters behavior.  Use your brain.Don’t be a zombie.” The poster probably intentioned to educate students on the physical and mental effects of vaping.  But it could also be interpreted as implying that, if you vape, your brain and behavior will become zombie-like. This is scaremongering.  

Scaremongering is the spread of ominus facts.  In the case of the PSA, the poster doesn’t elaborate on how nicotine alters your brain or behavior– it just tells you that it does and, somehow, zombies are related. From here, one must simply connect the dots: vaping = zombie.  This is a lie through omission– by not telling students the exact degree of the effects, educators perpetuate misconceptions about the true dangers of drugs.

When discussing sensitive topics like drugs, nuance is key. DGN must continue to use research-backed tactics.  The third and final poster was made up entirely of statistics from the Illinois Youth Survey. It shared statistics like “74% of DGN students have a negative view of vaping.”  This poster does not say that students look down on vapers– they don’t think that they’re zombies. Instead, they criticize vaping itself. Drug education should empower students, not guilt or frighten them.